Background: Parkinson's disease is an irreversible neurodegenerative disease linked to progressive movement disorders and is accompanied by an inflammatory reaction that is believed to contribute to its pathogenesis. Since sensitivity to inflammation is not the same in all brain structures, the aim of this work was to test whether physiological conditions as stress could enhance susceptibility to inflammation in the substantia nigra, where death of dopaminergic neurons takes place in Parkinson's disease.
Methods: To achieve our aim, we induced an inflammatory process in nonstressed and stressed rats (subject to a chronic variate stress) by a single intranigral injection of lipopolysaccharide, a potent proinflammogen. The effect of this treatment was evaluated on inflammatory markers as well as on neuronal and glial populations.
Results: Data showed a synergistic effect between inflammation and stress, thus resulting in higher microglial activation and expression of proinflammatory markers. More important, the higher inflammatory response seen in stressed animals was associated with a higher rate of death of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, the most characteristic feature seen in Parkinson's disease. This effect was dependent on glucocorticoids.
Conclusions: Our data demonstrate that stress sensitises midbrain microglia to further inflammatory stimulus. This suggests that stress may be an important risk factor in the degenerative processes and symptoms of Parkinson's disease.